I previously posted about the new $20 million dollar cleanup fund created to address old gas stations. The fund with be operated by the Ohio Development Services Agency (ODSA).
The fund will provide up to $100,00 for sampling and $500,000 for cleanup of abandoned gas stations or underground storage tanks that are classified as Class C (i.e. the Bureau of Underground Storage Tanks has certified that the party responsible for cleanup is not viable).
ODSA is currently developing program guidelines and is planning on having the program up and running some time this fall. One major legal issue that needs to be resolved is who exactly is eligible to receive funding.
The legislation states that the “property owner” for purposes of applying for the grant money must be “a political subdivision and an organization that owns publicly owned lands.” The Legislative Service Commission (LSC) analysis for H.B. 64 states that a political subdivision must own the land but “publicly owned lands include land that is owned by an organization that has entered into a relevant agreement with such a political subdivision.”
What does “entered into a relevant agreement with such a political subdivision” mean? Does this mean that a private property owner (as long as they didn’t create the contamination) could enter a redevelopment agreement with a City similar to how Clean Ohio operated(i.e. the City applies for the funds, but a private entity can own the land as long as it has a redevelopment agreement with a public entity). Or, does this mean the organization must hold the property on behalf of the City for public purposes?
If ODSA ultimately decides only political subdivisions or entities that hold public land can receive funding, there may be a pretty limited pool of applicants for funding. Such an interpretation would ultimately require a City or County to take ownership of the land in order to clean it up.
First, many cities may not have the wherewithal to purchase or take ownership of such property even through foreclosure. Second, many may be concerned with liability concerns since neighbors could still sue for releases of contamination. These are the types of liability issues and costs that government typically relies upon the private sector to address.
How this issue gets decided in the coming months will be a major factor in how quickly funds are utilized and how effective the program will be in addressing these sites.